Medium Sized Counties Represent The Most Critical For a Democratic Revival

Drive East Dems!

Several theories about the way to revive Democratic fortunes have been tossed about throughout the state for the past fifteen years, and most that have been implemented have been either half measures or have fallen flat.   During the 2002 election cycle I had the good fortune of being the Field Director for the Florida Democratic Party’s effort, working with local DECs. This effort was based around the I-4 corridor and surrounding counties, and in my mind ten years later still holds the key to reviving the Democratic Party on the state level.

Florida’s Democrats have lost 13 of the past 14 elections for statewide (non-federal) office. This is a record which is comparable to that of rock solid Republican states like Utah and Idaho and worse over the same period as traditional GOP strongholds like Wyoming, Montana, Kansas and Arizona. It is logical and perhaps admirably pragmatic that elements within a desperate party that has failed to properly train or promote a “farm team,” would turn to a proven statewide vote getter such as Charlie Crist to try and regain a foothold at the highest level. But even if Governor Crist runs as a Democrat and wins, it does little to solve the problems the party has as a viable statewide force.

Many Tallahassee-based lobbyists have overstated the importance of north Florida  counties in the possible revival of the party. While it is true that the leakage of legislative seats in the Big Bend and Panhandle areas has been dramatic, little can be done realistically to change the fortunes in that region. More importantly, that region does not have enough voters to really turn the tables in statewide elections or in tipping the legislative balance of power. Even if the Democrats carried every county between the Suwanee and Apalachicola Rivers, every election the GOP has won for statewide office since 2000, they still would have won, with the possible exception of Alex Sink’s defeat in the 2010 Governor’s Race.

We have also heard from the party’s southeast Florida base that maximizing turnout in Broward and Palm Beach Counties would make all the difference statewide. While there is some truth to the theory that more Democratic votes can be squeezed out of these two liberal metropolitan counties, both are already performing very well for Democrats and basing any statewide strategy around the two counties is difficult. What is important is that the party structures in both counties become more organized and less beset by factionalism.

The other theory is that the I-4 corridor decides statewide elections. This is by and large true but often times the emphasis on this analysis focuses exclusively on Orlando and Tampa Bay area counties. The reality is statewide elections have consistently been decided in the favor of the GOP by the the continuing underperfomance of Democratic candidates in non-metropolitan medium-sized counties that represent a large portion of the statewide electorate.

The most important counties in the state, it can be argued, are Brevard, Pasco, St Lucie, Sarasota, Volusia, Hernando and Polk. With the exception of traditionally Republican Sarasota, these are counties where the Democratic infrastructure has been eroded to a certain extent, but counties where the local party structure has remained solid and areas where developing a real farm team of local candidates and activists should be intensified with the backing of financial muscle.

Party building requires, like any building, a solid foundation. In politics foundations are built of people – be they registered voters, party activists, eager candidates or motivated donors.  Building the foundation necessary to begin and sustain a long-term resurgence of the Democratic Party requires creating a new backbone at the local level of committed activists, potential candidates, and major fund-raisers.

With this core group of believers who share core values, while at the same time incorporating that most democratic of notions inclusiveness, we can begin to build the essential “Farm Team” of local elected officials, and lay the groundwork for a successful campaign operation statewide in the medium sized counties.

When the Democrats dominated the Legislature in the 1980s, these counties were represented by the likes John Long, Charlie Roberts, Jack Aschrel, Sam Bell and others who mixed knowledgeable policy positions with an emphasis on local issues.

It is these counties, with proper financing, that can turn the state around. With support and guidance from local activists these are the places that can provide the foundation and resurgence of the Democratic Party in Florida at all levels. Local elected officials have the most contact with the average voter and are therefore the primary point of contact between Party, its statewide candidates and the voter.

13 thoughts on “Medium Sized Counties Represent The Most Critical For a Democratic Revival”

  1. Sink still would have lost. This is what I put in a recent article:

    If you were to convince EVERY non/other party voter in counties that had less than 50,000 registered voters (29 counties in all) to vote for Alex Sink in 2010 (in addition to Democrats), she still would have lost to Rick Scott. Yes, that is every one of those voters…100% turnout….100% for Alex Sink….still a Scott victory!

  2. Maybe developing an economic message that would appeal to wayward Democrats in the panhandle would change things. The areas you mention in this article are core Republican areas and we will not win them. They are not that big and we can make up for it in the traditionally Democratic areas north of Ocala.

  3. Volusia is more Dem, but the other counties you mention are GOP dominated and difficult to break through into.

  4. While I think it is important to compete in some of the counties you listed particularly Volusia and St Lucie, I think the other medium sized “exurbs” are very Republican. They are filled with retirees from the midwest and do not fit the profile of persuadable even though they are not necessarily tea party types.

    I would also say that the turnout and margins in Broward, Palm Beach and north Miami-Dade counties are hurting us statewide. Sure the Democrats are always winning these areas but as you note fiefdoms have taken over large portions of the party apparatus locally and in many cases they depress turnout to help the Republicans. I am not pointing fingers specifically at one group but it is well know that in Palm Beach and Broward Counties their are some Democratic clubs and activists that back Republicans or work harder for some Democrats than for others. This inevitably depresses turnout and often times creates controversy within the local party and further infighting and anger.

    Do the Republicans have these problems in places like Jacksonville, Pensacola, and Fort Myers areas that they dominate? Maybe, but they are winning and we are losing so it is more obvious on our end.

  5. The Rs don’t have these problems in those areas and areas like PBC, Miami and Broward have made sure Democrats have stayed home during primaries and general elections in the last cycle because they believe that Democrats are dumb when it comes to who they should vote for. Fiefdoms do hurt the party and until Wexler, Weiss and Handler, Sachs & Sax and Eric Johnson walk away from playing politics in order for them to gain money individually things will not change. Deutch pushing for some guy against Bernard is just bad for the party and for the black community.

    We saw last cycle Wexler endorse the very head of the party who is currently being investigated for money laundering to some oil tycoon over a Democrat. We see Democrats play so much politics in South County and Broward that they voter chooses to stay home. In Dade you see similiary issues yet they are slowly cleaning it up. In order to the Ds to move forward they need to be able to push candidates that can win but more importantly stand on issues that the public cares about. They can spin the message but not the vote on the important issues.

    Instead it seems the Ds as Jimmy Kimmel joked about roll over at the get go. For Ds to win in this state and gear people to the polls…they have to be smart. They is like hoping the Rs will become poor…it is not going to happen until the FEDS start cracking down on corruption. Rumor has it might be coming quicker than we expected.

  6. So many flaws here where do we begin?

    Wexler endorsed Crist who was by that time an independent. He and others tried to get Greene the nomination. He would have funded the party and helped beat Crist & Rubio. Meek was too weak, too union, too ethnic to win statewide.

    Secondly, Sachs and Sax are Republicans. They back Democrats from time to time, and are not concerned about the party.

    Thirdly, people often do not vote on issues but on personality and ability to raise money. Sorry but it is true. The activists are to naive to this reality most of the time, and try and saddle us with losing candidates.

    Fourthly, Deutch is backing a committed Democrat who has been in office before and run for other offices against Bernard. The seat is a mixed seat not a minority access seat.

  7. Brevard will never go D in a million years. No chance. Worst combo of southerners, rich engineers and northern retirees.

  8. It is an Africa American seat. Deutch is wrong wrong wrong. The voters will prove you wrong.
    Sachs Sax and Klein is not Republican. Tell Ron Klein, Maria Sachs and Frank B that. You are wrong and we will vote Bernard. Deutch should not get involved. Racist!

  9. Concerned Democrat

    I think it is imperative that we work around the edges in the big counties to increase turnout and work hard in the counties mentioned in this article. The panhandle has proven time and time again to be a waste of time.

  10. I disagree entirely. Look at the 1994 Chiles race. Running competitive in the panhandle and crushing Bush by 350k votes b/w Broward & Palm Beach was more than enough. If we focus on a populist message that appeals to people on fixed incomes and state workers we can carry the entire second congressional district again.

  11. The line about Tallahassee lobbyists pushing a North florida strategy here is unfortunate but not entirely untrue. The people in the capital know this part of the state the best and wanted to work through the issues we were having there. Most were Democrats and are either from the area or have moved to the area. They could have helped turn the area back towards us. It would have helped stem the tide statewide. This all having been said it is obvious now that the panhandle is long gone now and a new strategy has to be implemented. The counties mentioned in this article with the exception if Polk which votes like the panhandle are all ancestrally Republican or at least since the 1950s. We will see what happens but I do not think flipping those counties is that realistic.